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April 21, 2024

Beyond the stereotypes: dispelling myths about mental illness

By MEAGAN PEOPLES | November 29, 2018

Myth: People with mental illnesses tend to be violent

Those being effectively treated for psychotic illnesses are no more likely to be violent. Still, a 2006 survey found that 60 percent of people thought that those with schizophrenia were likely to act violently. Emma McGinty, deputy director for the Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that this belief is not true.

“Only about four percent of all interpersonal violence is attributable to mental illness and the large majority of people with mental illness are never violent toward others,” she wrote. “Only an estimated eight percent of people with mental illness who receive outpatient treatment ever conduct any act of violence, including minor acts like pushing or shoving.”

Center Assistant Director Alene Kennedy-Hendricks wrote in an email to The News-Letter that media overemphasizes the link between mental illness and violence. 

“People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence,” she wrote. “Research has found that if excess risk of violence associated with mental illness was reduced to the population average, it would only reduce overall levels of violence in the US by about 4 percent.”

Myth: Mental illness is curable through willpower

Of course willpower is useful when living with a mental illness. It can affect whether you’re motivated enough to get out of bed, take a shower or eat a meal, but people often confuse mental illness with a lack of willpower. 

McGinty emphasized the biological component of mental illness, as disorders have both a biological component and behavioral component. 

“Mental illness is a chronic and treatable health condition like diabetes,” McGinty wrote.

Despite high rates of mental illness in adult Americans, myths which delegitimize the experiences of those with mental illness contribute to an unwillingness to allocate resources to treat these illnesses. 

“Mental illnesses are health conditions. Framing these conditions as the fault of the individual is inaccurate, stigmatizing, and counterproductive. These attitudes are associated with reduced support for policies that increase public investment in mental health,” Kennedy-Hendricks wrote.

Myth: People with mental illness can’t hold down a job

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adult Americans experience mental illness each year. Many of these people hold jobs in high-stress environments. 

“Serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which often onset during young adulthood, can result in employment challenges,” McGinty wrote. “However, early intervention with effective treatment greatly improves outcomes.” 

A 2016 paper published in PubMed stated that disability policies and lack of funding are chief barriers to employment for those with mental illness. The paper suggests that an emphasis on early-intervention programs at the federal level may increase employment for those with mental illnesses. 

“People with various types of mental health conditions are valued, productive members of the workforce. Individuals with more serious mental illnesses also often want to work and evidence-based supported employment programs can help participants obtain and sustain employment. Unfortunately, these programs are underfunded,” Kennedy-Hendricks wrote.

Myth: Mental illnesses can never be cured

McGinty likened the chronic nature of mental illness to diabetes. 

“Mental illnesses are chronic health conditions. Many mental illnesses need to be managed over the course of a lifetime, similar to chronic conditions like diabetes, but with effective treatment they can be managed and controlled,” she wrote. 

Kennedy-Hendricks also emphasized that recovery is possible for those with mental illness. 

“Effective treatments exist for improving the health and wellbeing of individuals with mental illness. However, people with mental health and substance use disorders face significant barriers to accessing high-quality, evidence-based care,” she wrote. 

It is often near impossible to tell who lives with mental illness and who doesn’t. This has led some people to conclude that depression, anxiety or other disorders don’t exist. But it’s important to remember that they do exist and play a central role in the lives of some of our close friends and family. 

Whether you have a mental illness or not, do what you can to stay educated about them and help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

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